The Huluga controversy continues

lson T. Elizaga of the Heritage Conservation Advocates writes his account of the events surrounding the destruction of the Huluga Open Site in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, and HCA’s bone (pun intended) with the National Museum of the Philippines.

21 August 2007 (MindaNews) – Elson T. Elizaga of the Heritage Conservation Advocates writes his account of the events surrounding the destruction of the Huluga Open Site in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, and HCA’s bone (pun intended) with the National Museum of the Philippines.

Trash
Elson T. Elizaga

One important lesson I got from a news reporting class in Silliman University came from Dr. Crispin Maslog. He said that if you want to study a man, you take the contents of his wastebasket.

This advice is popular in other sciences, such as forensics, zoology, and archaeology. Put “midden important in archaeology” in google.com and you’ll find numerous references. Even if you insert “not” in the phrase, the result will be the same. One website is socialstudiesforkids.com. It says, “It might sound a little silly, but archaeologists can find out a lot about people by looking through their trash.” In 2006, trash middens in Alaska have changed a popular belief about Inupiat Eskimos.

Trash is encyclopedia.

On August 5, 2003, an archaeologist couldn’t contain her excitement when she found shells, animal bones, and earthenware sherds at the bottom of Obsidian Hill in Huluga. “Oh, we’ve found a midden, a kitchen midden!” Dr. Erlinda Burton exclaimed. Her companions were the wife and daughter of Atty. Maning Ravanera and myself.


A midden is “a mound or deposit containing shells, animal bones, and other refuse that indicates the site of a human settlement.” It’s garbage, in layman’s terms.

From the opposite side of the hill came archaeologists Leee Anthony Neri and Clyde Jagoon. They were examining the damage on the Huluga Open Site because of the road project of former mayor Vicente Y. Emano. Neri saw me holding a piece of bone and quickly but quietly extended a plastic bag in front of me. I was surprised. I hesitated, but since he was from the National Museum, I gave the piece to him. It looked like deer antler.

That was a beautiful day.

Two things Burton did immediately: She wrote to the National Museum, asking for a permit to dig at the midden site. She explained that her archaeology students would help. So, the project would be at NO COST to the government.

Then she requested the lot owner Wilson Cabaluna to protect the same area.

Strangely, however, the National Museum didn’t reply for weeks, despite government service rule that letters should be responded in 15 days. (A letter would reach Burton three months later.) And Cabaluna refused to cooperate, digging a pit in the midden instead. Alarmed, I sent pictures of the midden and found fossils to National Museum lawyer Trixie Angeles. No response.

In October 2003, Burton presented Huluga at the 4th annual conference of the Kapisanan ng mga Arkeologists ng Pilipinas (KAPI). She showed pictures of the midden and found contents. No big deal. No questions asked. Burton also suggested that the centralized National Museum should assign deputies in the provinces, but director Cora Alvina said the National Museum wasn’t mandated to do this. (Ma’am, a law can revise it.)

In November 2003, Burton proceeded with her planned excavation without a National Museum permit. She and her students, however, dug only in the lot of Danilo Bacarro, after getting his approval. Meanwhile, to Burton’s dismay, Cabaluna continued digging nearby and she had no authority to stop him. Burton’s team found only earthenware sherds in Bacarro’s lot.

Fast forward.

Enter the Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) in November 2004, hired by Emano to determine, among other objectives, if Huluga was a settlement site. They dug on top of the heavily eroded Obsidian Hill.

Two weeks later, they held a press conference, where they announced that the Huluga Open Site — which includes the hill — is a temporary campsite, not a site where people had continuously lived for a long time. They didn’t mention the midden. (The midden would be identified later in the ASP report as simply one of two “Treasure Hunter Pits”.)

Months later, ASP published a report of the excavations. The report states NO midden in Huluga. ASP also ignored the fossils and artifacts found by the Heritage Conservation Advocates in 2003 — such as the whale harpoon, which has counterparts in Siquijor, Bohol, Cebu and Lomblen Island of Indonesia. Lomblen is 2000 KILOMETERS south of Huluga. The Huluga whale harpoon has a National Museum accession number.

ASP also didn’t discuss the Copper 8 Maravedis coin. The coin is minted between 1788 and 1808, more than a century after Spanish missionaries landed in Cagayan de Oro in 1622. Although found only in the surface, three children told me several other coins were retrieved from the same site.

Somebody must have been happy about these critical omissions of ASP. He must have been pleased also that ASP did not consult Burton nor made her part of the team — which is dumb, because snubbing a resident archaeologist invites suspicion that visiting archaeologist have a purpose other than science.

What happened to our esteemed scientists from the University of the Philippines?

I don’t know, but these are the facts. Neri was leader of the ASP team. Her mother worked in the City Hall under Emano. In 2003, he told me that a two-week excavation in Huluga would cost P80,000. Emano gave his ASP group P700,000 for the same duration. Cabaluna is a City Tourism Office employee.

In August 2007, a reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer found two pits in the midden, each about 20 feet deep. Her article elicited criticism from ASP because she quoted me as describing the ASP report “a mock report”.

Actually, my original phrase was worse: “not scientific”.

Today, ASP maintains that the Huluga Open Site is a campsite — even though it’s still an archaeological site anyway. And they still score Burton for excavating “without a permit”. Meanwhile, without help from the National Museum, the midden in Cabaluna’s lot has turned into a black hole.

Such finesse truly impresses. In contrast, Emano’s destruction was quite crude.

Leee, you’re in the government. Why don’t you stop whining and call for a Senate investigation? Call everyone involved — including Burton, her students, and myself. Don’t worry. We can handle that.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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